Where Curtis trumps Juilliard

Where Curtis trumps Juilliard

Comment Of The Day

norman lebrecht

June 23, 2021

Readers Comment of the Day in our ongoing debate comes from a recent graduate:

Having graduated Curtis I can tell you the most important aspects:
…and why it doesn’t compare to an education at any other musical institution….

#1. Your student colleagues are the people you forge your most important musical and social relationships with. Your career is based on these relationships. These are the foundation of your career. You share with them and the other graduates something very, very, unique. The graduating classes were never over 40-50 people in the 20th century.
#2. The teachers treat you like you already are or will be imminently a professional musical colleague…because at this school it is true.
3. MOST importantly, Curtis has (or had) a distinct style of playing. The wind players and string players all had the same teachers for orch rep class every week.
Orchestra was treated by the vast majority of the students and teachers as the most important aspect of the education.
And it is free.


  • Morgan says:

    ‘Free’ is an elusive/overstatement. “. . . tuition at Curtis is free and awarded to all undergraduate and graduate students. The cost of room and board at the institute is $14,363. There also are additional expenses such as health insurance, administrative fees, and textbooks, which comes to about $6,780 in additional costs per year.”

  • Petros Linardos says:

    Does someone have insights into musical connections between Curtis Institute and the Philadelphia Orchestra?

    • Curtis grad says:

      Yes, could you be a bit more specific?

      • Petros Linardos says:

        For instance whether there is anything like a common musical culture, about the veracity of a rumor that Philadelphia Orchestra musicians favor appointing Curtis grads. The latter is is a question, I try not take rumors seriously.
        More important, if you are Curtis grad, you may touch upon questions I didn’t think of asking.

    • Kyle Wiedmeyer says:

      Yes, a majority of the members of the Philadelphia Orchestra are alumni of Curtis, not least because the teachers at Curtis are mostly in the Philadelphia Orchestra. That’s really it, no?

  • Much of Curtis’ faculty is culled from Juilliard

  • Fred says:

    I’d like to hear a little more about Juilliard vs Manhattan School of Music.
    MSM does not get enough props because it is considered 2nd banana to Juilliard in NY, but having attended MSM after successfully auditioning for both schools, I feel I made the right decision.
    MSM’s mission was always considered to be more inclusive, community based, non elitist and concerned with the potential of each student. Many of the same applied faculty that teach at Juilliard also teach at Manhattan.
    There are multitudes of successful musicians and artists that have graduated MSM; it should not be considered an inferior institution to Juilliard, and in many cases, it is the better choice.

    • JoshW says:

      1) Name one principal musician of a major orchestra that attended MSM; 2) Where do the MSM orchestras perform? Anybody? I assure you it’s not at Lincoln Center. 3) Name one MSM graduate on conducting who has an important career. —- It’s adorable that MSM cares about community and each individual’s potential and finding the path to world peace, but it’s not remotely in the Juilliard ballpark.

      • JB says:

        A little harsh, but some truth….there are some excellent people at MSM, but the overall level is miles below Juilliard! And my one year at MSM cost more than any of my years at Juilliard…

      • Snob Police says:

        Really Josh? Tell that to Elmar Oliveira, Dawn Upshaw, Kirill Gerstein – they all did pretty well by MSM. And be sure to advise Pinches Zukerman & Horatio Gutteriez of MSM’s 2nd banana status, so that they can bail out of there!!!

        • Jewelyard says:

          Sorry to say, you’ve named pretty much the only instrumentalists with world class careers who hold MSM degrees. There may be a handful more, but there is absolutely no comparison of MSM and Juilliard in terms of the number of distinguished musicians with world class careers, and even, as stated earlier by JoshW, principal players and the like. Having graduated Juilliard, I can tell you that the school certainly has its problems. It is too expensive, and they still don’t offer ample financial aid unless you are lucky enough to be awarded a Kovner Fellowship (over the last few years I’ve had some students who were accepted, offered 0-$10,000, and politely declined in favor of other schools, to study with more distinguished pedagogues, that offered them full or close to full tuition.) I also think there are too far many faculty members, particularly in the string area. Some of the faculty are indeed effective as teachers and some of the most influential performers of today, but many are also not, and often beg the question from current Juilliard students, “how the (insert profanity) are they teaching at Juilliard?”
          I applaud MSM for some of its efforts and hope they remain a viable institution as they do indeed have a rich musical history in their own right. But, it ain’t Juilliard.

          • Fliszt says:

            Delora Zajick & Carol Wincenc also graduated MSM. Juilliard’s “name” graduates were mostly studying with teachers outside the school (such as Garrick Ohlsson – when he won 1st prize in Warsaw, his gloating Juilliard teachers learned from the NY Times that he was studying with a lady named Olga Barabini in Westchester). But if the Josh’s of this world have swallowed the myth that going to Juilliard magically makes one great…

        • JoshW says:

          OK – well, that’s five. Wow. None of whom are leading orchestra musicians are conductors – which was the gist of my post. Try again.

      • Elizabeth says:

        Look it up, there are many. Including the Berlin Phil.

      • Curtis grad says:

        Scott Pingel princ bass of the San Francisco symphony did his masters at MSM

      • Bill says:

        Guy Braunstein, youngest ever concertmaster of the Berlin Philharmonic…

      • Elizabeth says:

        And another thing… MSM does not perform at Lincoln Center because it has its own hall. Juilliard performs at Lincoln Center because the school is located there. You are adorable if you think that is the measure of a school. Do you see or play for what is on the podium now in a major metropolitan area? No school should want to claim responsibility for most of the trainwrecks that have careers. YOU are adorable.

  • Robert Roy says:

    OMG! Please – what’s with ‘very unique?!’ Something can’t be very unique. It either is or it isn’t.

    • Moderately unique says:

      Unique can mean unusual.

      • Peter San Diego says:

        To my horror, I find that you’re correct, at least per the 1999 Webster’s; the fourth definition of “unique” is given as “not typical; unusual.”

        Webster’s is an example of a descriptive, rather than prescriptive, dictionary: it reflects the debasement of words via persistent misuse. Soon, the transitive verb “lay” will gain the intransitive meaning of the verb “lie”, etc. etc.; and “step” will gain a transitive meaning in connection with “foot”, thanks to the burgeoning of ignorance.

    • Urcorrect says:

      You are correct. That must have to do something with the (very) free education :).

    • David K. Nelson says:

      That’s very true.

    • Sue Sonata Form says:

      It’s elitist, which is the deep core of aspiration at the heart of every envious Lefty.

  • Couperin says:

    My impression of “Curtis Kids” was always that they were extremely insular, arrogant, conservative and robotic in their playing. I remember one violinist describing Stravinsky’s Pulcinella as “fake baroque music; why don’t we just play the real thing?”

    Yes, if one could HEAR one’s eyes rolling, they would’ve heard mine.

  • 'twan says:

    Curtis > Juilliard all day long, but
    “Orchestra was treated by the vast majority of the students and teachers as the most important aspect of the education.”
    is most definitely not true in the strings! lessons>volleypong>fussball>notbeinghungoverfororchestra

    • Guest says:

      I think that it is maybe instrument specific. As far as brass players, Curtis is below Juilliard, and neither is number one, which is probably Rice.

  • interesting says:

    Interesting that most of the comments talk about orchestra, one might think that the alleged top vocal programs at these institutions are non-existent. I long for a day when having attended a school like these signifies that you attended that school and nothing else. In other words: can you play/sing/conduct or not?

  • Jailyard Fetter says:

    All the anti-Juilliard stuff lately just reads like sour grapes. Not like slipped disc ever published anything that has substance anyway, so no surprise.

    • JoshW says:

      Yep – A lot of people here who didn’t get in and now they’re trying to make their state school sound important. Sad.

      • Joke-liard says:

        Well JoshW, when one auditions for an orchestral position, or when any instrumentalist or vocalist enters a competition, the audition committee doesn’t give a rodent’s ass where the contestant went to school – they are only interested in whether or not you can deliver the goods. The Juilliard degree isn’t a guarantee that the person can deliver artistry – in fact, often it’s a warning sign of impending robotic mediocrity – as the Juilliard assembly line ejects one proficient, faceless performer after the other – all products of teachers who don’t even perform.

  • Recent Curtis grad says:

    Not 100% factual, but mostly true.

  • Jeffrey Biegel says:

    Actually, when I attended The Juilliard School from 1979-85, the faculty was respectful, I never felt talked down to, and had the admiration and respect of the likes of Josef Raieff, Beveridge Webster, Martin Canin, Oxana Yablonskaya, Earl Wild, Felix Galimir etc. The relationships that were forged included composers Lowell Liebermann, Richard Danielpour, Kenneth Fuchs (all three have been commissioned for new concertos), and friends who have remained close spanning four decades. The experience one takes from the conservatory are the building blocks they decide to take forward. It is partially the environment, but mostly the students, how they interact and how they maintain friendships over a lifetime. It isn’t the school’s name or reputation that makes this happen.

  • John Porter says:

    It’s always amusing to read the conservatory-oriented posts. Most of them are like listening to an old radio broadcast. Do you all really think that any of these schools are graduating a majority of their students into orchestras? How many jobs are there? Curtis, Colburn, Yale, Juilliard…MSM, I can go on, place very few students into orchestra jobs. And the fact of the matter is that it was always that way, but today, there are just more schools producing graduates. The whole Curtis approach is laughable, unless perhaps you’re that lucky one who gets a job and the fact of the matter having one orchestra rep coach your entire time may have a negative effect on your training and ability to play in many different types of ensembles and do the things freelancers have to do today to survive. Not to mention if you get a job in a regional orchestra that doesn’t pay enough for a decent living. You can all go on and on about measuring these schools by which are going to get the graduates an orchestra job, but that is completely absurd. The other fact is that the free tuition schools are the narrowest, the smallest, and likely do the worst job of preparing someone for the portfolio career they will encounter, not to mention likely have the weakest general education and smallest number of electives.

    • BigSir says:

      So, study IT and quit whining.

    • JoshW says:

      John Porter – So by your reasoning, Harvard sucks for offering MBAs without being able to guarantee that every grad with be a Fortune 500 CEO.

      • Carl Simmons says:

        I think you’re missing his point: these schools don’t lead to “orchestra jobs” at a very high rate and never did. But it appears most of the comments hinge upon an outcome that is irrelevant and has been for a long time. If you want to talk about the quality of the schools and compare them, don’t measure by where the principal horn of the Cleveland Orchestra attend school. And by the way, the Harvard MBA ain’t free and is a very large program. And what is more, do you think everyone goes to Harvard to be a fortune 500 CEO? As a someone with a Harvard MBA, I can tell you that you don’t know a thing about it.

    • Ory Shihor says:

      You are correct on many levels, and that’s coming from someone who studied at both Curtis and Juilliard, and taught at a ‘free tuition’ school for many years. The music conservatory model is, in my opinion, ancient, irrelevant actually, and reinventing it will take much more than adding a couple of entrepreneurial courses.

    • Hmus says:

      Not completely correct. For instance:

      “Students who have completed Curtis’s liberal arts requirements for the Bachelor of Music degree may enroll at no cost at the University of Pennsylvania for additional courses not available at Curtis, under the reciprocal agreement between the two schools.”

      free Ivy League credits are nothing to scorn.

      • Matthew Weiss says:

        There are prerequisites for many of the Penn courses, particularly language prereqs that many of the Curtis students cannot meet. An interesting measure of quality…

        • Bill says:

          Care to provide some examples? Hard to believe that this wouldn’t also be a problem for someone who didn’t study the relevant language before going to Penn.

          • Syliva Simmons says:

            A non-English speaker will have to have pass a language test that Curtis students will not or not at the level that a Penn student will have to pass for admission. It takes more than being a fine violinist to get into Penn. A lot of the Curtis students cannot take the Penn courses because of the high English standards at Penn. I believe that is the point that Matthew is making.

          • Saxon says:

            If you have been living in the US for a year and can’t speak English (which is the language requirement) then, no, you will not be allowed on the course at Penn.

    • Luigi Nonono says:

      Not true at all. Especially now, when they are so conscious of preparing young entrepreneurs for today’s world. There’s, again, NOTHING WRONG WITH A TEACHING CAREER!!! Orchestras are not the be-all and end-all. One-third of the members of the Minnesota Orchestra have traditionally been Curtis graduates. They get jobs. People do retire.